Seventy-three years ago, the world was shocked and horrified as the extent of the Holocaust extermination machine was unveiled. Six million Jews, half of Europe’s Jewish population and a third of the world’s, slaughtered in less than five brutal years. Along with five million others—priests and pastors, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, communists, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, not to mention resistance fighters.
How could a loving God allow His people—or any people—to be led to such a slaughter?
Let’s be very clear about one thing. The God who cares about every sparrow and numbers each hair on our heads, the God who formed each of our inward parts in our mothers’ wombs, the God who sees… saw this too. He heard every muffled sob, every anguished cry.
If the war-soiled soldiers who liberated Dachau were so enraged they shot every Nazi guard they found, what kind of justice will a righteous God exact? How do you suppose God felt every moment the Nazi extermination machine ground on?
However, He wasn’t surprised—at all—at the depths to which human sin would drive us. And He has a plan that encompassed it.
More than 1400 years before Christ, Moses predicted that the Jews would be scattered among the nations. He also predicted they would ultimately return to the land the Lord had given them.
“The Lord your God will… gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it…” (Deut 30:3-5)
The Jewish Diaspora began when the Assyrians plundered Northern Israel in the eighth century B.C. It continued when the Babylonians conquered Judah in the sixth century B.C.
From the banks of the River Chebar in Babylon, Ezekiel reiterated the promise that the people were not rejected forever, and would one day return to their land. The Lord gave him a vision of a valley of dry bones:
He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, You know.”… So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.… So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Ezek 37:2-3, 7-14
“The knee bone connected to the thigh bone. Now hear the word of the Lord.” Did you ever sing that old spiritual? I was well into adulthood before I realized I’d been singing a version of Ezekiel’s vision.
The Lord goes on to explain what He’d just shown the prophet.
Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,” declares the Lord.’” (Ezek 37:7-14)
Was this fulfilled when the Jewish people returned from Babylonian exile? No, for three reasons.
There are many, many other prophecies I could cite. But… “Our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.” Does that not capture the wretched state of the typhus-ridden living skeletons the Allied forces encountered when they uncovered the Nazi death camps?
When the concentration camps were liberated in 1945, I always pictured that the captives were quickly nursed back to health and freed. But in researching a future novel, I learned that picture is heartbreakingly inaccurate. The war left 250,000 Jewish displaced persons interned around Europe—many of them still confined behind barbed wire in overcrowded conditions on the very grounds of the camps in which they’d endured so much.
How and where to resettle them became a humanitarian crisis of global proportion. They didn’t want to or couldn’t return to their former homes where they’d faced so much persecution and betrayal. Shamefully, for the most part the nations turned their backs on them—most notably the British, who still controlled Palestine under the mandate to create a Jewish homeland there. With hundreds of thousands of Jews now begging for a chance to enter Palestine, in the face of Arab pressure the British permitted only 18,000 legal Jewish immigrants per year.
Many Jewish displaced persons were still in those camps five years later.
Horrible. But why do I claim the Holocaust was so pivotal?
Because it was the mechanism the Lord used to establish the modern nation of Israel. And Israel is His end-times timepiece.
Those are two pretty big assertions, so let me break that down.
Yes. This theme is woven throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus gave it added clarity—and what we call in fiction “a ticking time-bomb.”
In Luke 13, our Lord is in the midst of a pointed give-and-take with the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. He urges His listeners to repent and provides a parable as an illustration and stark warning.
And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9
A few days later, on the day after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He encountered an actual fig tree.
Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered. Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?” Matt 21:19-20
Dramatic object lesson, anyone?
Later that day, another heated confrontation with the Pharisees caused Jesus to issue a stern warning:
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing the fruit of it….” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. (Matt 21:43, 45)
Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. (Matt 22:15)
Jesus’ meaning was painfully clear to the Pharisees, in part because they were well aware that the destruction of figs and vines is often used in the Hebrew scriptures as a picture of national destruction. (Ps 105:33, Jer 5:17, 8:13, Hosea 2:12, Joel 1:7, 1:12, Amos 4:9)
Immediately after that discussion, Jesus left the temple. The disciples famously asked Him about the fate of Herod’s Temple and He started a fresh discourse that includes some of His most well-known end-times prophecies. Among them:
Now learn the parable from the fig tree. When its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matt 24:32-34)
I think it’s crystal clear in the context that Jesus used the fig tree as a visual symbol of the nation of Israel. When He caused one to wither in Matt 21, it illustrated the national destruction that would be unleashed within a generation after the Jewish nation crucified its Messiah. And when we see the fig tree bloom again in Matt 24, it represents the rebirth of the destroyed nation. So, when the Jewish nation is brought back to life in fulfillment of prophecy, the generation that witnesses this rebirth “will not pass away until all these things” described in Matthew 24-25 take place.
I shared some thoughts on this in another post. You’ll find a list there of dozens of prophecies from the Hebrew scriptures that have been fulfilled, quite literally, in the modern nation of Israel.
I’m not arguing that the nation of Israel is perfect in its current instantiation. The Ezekiel 37 passage is clear that the Lord will bring them back into the land initially in an unregenerate state. But if you don’t see God’s hand at work, calling a remnant of His people back into the land and protecting and providing for them there, not to mention making a nation the size of New Jersey into “an exceedingly great army,” I’m convinced you are missing the very core of what He’s doing in our day.
Back to Jesus’ words about the fig tree. How long is a generation? Eighty years? 100? And are we counting from 1948, when Israel was established, or 1967, when the Israelis won back Jerusalem? The answers to these questions aren’t clear, but any way you do the math…
If the widely-held interpretation that the budding fig tree in Matt 24 represents Israel’s rebirth is correct,
Time Is Short.
Now for my second big assertion above. How did the Holocaust drive Israel’s creation?
A little background. In the early twentieth century, the land of Israel was part of the Ottoman empire. After the Ottoman Empire fell at the end of WWI, the League of Nations gave the British a mandate to manage an area that included what we now call Israel and Jordan.
The specific charter for that mandate? Create “a Jewish homeland.”
It was the British who dubbed the area “Palestine,” a nod to a name the Romans gave it millenia before. For centuries prior to 1922, there was no concept of Palestine as a distinct political entity, of Jerusalem as any sort of political capital, or of the Palestinians as a people group that was in any way distinct from other Arab citizens of the Ottoman empire.
To say it more succinctly, while there certainly were Arabs who lived in an area the British named Palestine, “Palestinians” as a distinct people group simply weren’t a thing.
For many years, Jewish people were allowed to immigrate freely into British Palestine. Some came, purchasing land legally from Arab families who were happy to sell it. But they didn’t come in great numbers. Why? Because life in Palestine was hard! The land they were able to purchase was generally undesirable. They drained malarial swamps or fought to coax crops from arid sand. You had to be young, hardy, and a bit of a zealot for the pioneering Zionist life to appeal.
Worse, even though they’d acquired their land legally, the Jewish neighborhoods and settlements were subject to random violence by Arab neighbors. These episodes became more frequent as the Jewish population increased, climaxing in the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. Approximately 300 Jews were murdered during this Revolt.
Backbreaking labor? Violent opposition from neighbors? Doesn’t it evoke shades of life when the Jewish remnant returned from Babylon, as described in Ezra and Nehemiah?
In Western thought, time progresses in a line. How often has someone shown you a timeline for something? Something I’m slowly learning to appreciate is that, in Hebrew thought, time progresses as a spiral. Prophecies often have multiple fulfillments. One sequence of events foreshadows another that provides an even greater realization of the same spiritual truth.
I see this as one of those occasions. As in the days of Esther, most Jewish people in the early twentieth century fatally clung to their comforts in exile rather than returning to the land.
Sadly, it took the sweeping horror of the Holocaust to drive substantial numbers back to Zion.
And it also took the Holocaust to move world sympathy enough to persuade the new United Nations to ratify a “partition plan,” finally making good on the promised Jewish homeland. This established the Jewish nation and set the last phase of “The Age of the Gentiles” in motion. (Luke 21:24)
The bottom line?
Nothing is a historic accident.
May we never forget the Holocaust and the millions of lives it wiped out! But even in something that awful, our God reigns.
As Jeremiah encouraged the exiles in Babylon:
‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jer 29:11)
Or as Paul encouraged the nascent church in Rome:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us….
We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose….
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Again… God’s timepiece is wound and the clock is running down. I’m not sure what “short” means, but I know time is short. If you haven’t yet recognized your “calling according to God’s purposes,” if you haven’t yet made the decision for Christ that will make you part of God’s remnant for whom “all things work together for good,” I urge you to hesitate no longer.
A sincere thank you for the time and attention you’ve devoted to this post! Here are links to a couple other articles on Israel that might interest you.
If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:23, 6:23), please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)
The decision that saves you is that simple!
Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.